The seed was first planted in Club Workspace, and now African brand Aduna has blossomed into a successful business, with a new Kennington Park HQ and a range of high-profile stockists for its superfood health products
The baobab is a tree that grows in 32 countries across Africa. It thrives in the wild and doesn’t require any fertilisers, yet it produces a nutritious fruit around the size of a coconut. The fruit has a shelf life of two years without refrigeration, and has a hard shell that makes it easy to transport and export. It’s the very definition of a low-maintenance crop, and it can already be found in people’s back yards.
Most importantly, the baobab has numerous health benefits. It’s rich in vitamin C, for example. When Andrew Hunt, founder and MD of health and beauty brand Aduna, lived in Gambia for four years, his landlady would prepare him a baobab shake every morning. He always “felt much better for it”.
This African staple has enormous potential. In Zimbabwe, it’s said that the population consumes 60 tons of the fruit and exports the same amount, and 20,000 tons go to waste – and that’s typical across Africa. In the continent as a whole, an estimated eight to 10 million households farm it already. Says Andrew: “That trade in baobab-related products could create a market worth $1 billion for rural Africans.”
The Aduna team have decided now is the time to make baobab famous, with their line of superfruit nutritional supplements and energy bars. And in line with the profits they could potentially reap, they are dreaming big. Recently, they were runners-up in Richard Branson’s Pitch to Rich competition, which won them a £100,000 marketing budget, and they partnered with Holland & Barrett, who donated space in their shop windows to the startup. Aduna have form; their products are already the best-selling superfoods in both Whole Foods Market and Planet Organic, and they were the first food to be sold in beauty halls in Liberty.
The path hasn’t always been straightforward for those behind the award-winning startup. Andrew originally worked in advertising until he decided to abandon his successful career (he was the youngest account director in his firm and looked after clients like Heinz and Pfizer) to do something he really cared about. But after working as a scriptwriter and finding that didn’t fulfil him either, he became despondent.
His involvement in Africa came about by chance. A family friend asked him to come out and help a fruit-and-vegetable social farming enterprise in Gambia. After four years Andrew returned, worked in various Africa-related jobs and got an MBA from Oxford, becoming, as he puts it, “an expert in west African horticulture”.
In 2011 he founded Aduna as a response to everything he’d witnessed during his time in Africa; firstly, it was an acknowledgement that aid wasn’t an efficient way to help those on the ground, but it was also a counterpoint to the images of doom, gloom, famine and war that the media usually propagate when portraying the continent and its people. And it was how he wanted to earn his living.
“As a marketing person, I was never interested in business, but this is a social business,” he explains. “Success is not measured in terms of sales of frozen ready meals, which no one cares about, but if we sell a lot of baobab, the family who grow it will be able to build a new room and not all sleep in the same one.”
Aduna was originally launched in Club Workspace. The team at that point was small: just Andrew and an intern, while his business partner Nick worked at home. Then they managed to raise £200K from friends and family in two rounds, after setting up a Facebook page for product feedback and receiving lots of requests to invest. Andrew has two pieces of advice for anyone considering this type of funding: “Tell people only to invest money they can afford to lose. And get the most out of SEIS and EIS tax breaks that you can.” Find out more about raising investment.
The company raised their next round from the social-impact fund Clearly So. Aduna “can’t take institutional investment as it’s only interested in the bottom line. But we’re not here to build the business up and sell it. We’re here for the long haul.” Aduna has now, as Andrew puts it, “gone beyond what angels can do”. They’re currently preparing for a bigger round with social-impact funds looking to support women farmers in rural Africa.
The company is now based at Workspace Kennington Park; they grew too big for Club Workspace and Andrew’s living room, where they were temporarily located. “Kennington’s a good location,” says Andrew. “There’s natural light. And enough space for everyone and plenty of storage.” He also stresses that it’s “great to have a community of young businesses around us”.
In fact, Aduna got a lot of votes for Pitch to Rich by knocking on all the doors of other businesses in Kennington Park. The £100,000 they won will go towards taking baobab and moringa, the next superfood they’re pushing, into the mainstream. Rest assured, you’ll be seeing an Aduna product in a Waitrose near you very soon.
Find out more at aduna.com
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